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Cormorants and shags

Shag on grass

Image: Andy Hay

Large, dark water birds, in the UK just two species, one essentially marine, the other found on all kinds of waters. They are long-bodied, quite large-tailed birds, with broad wings and long necks, and a general shape somewhere between divers and geese. 

They have short, thick legs, showing a relationship to gannets by the fact that webs join all four toes. Their bills are thick and hooked at the tip, helping to grasp fish, which they catch by diving under water. 

Characteristic behaviour includes standing with wings held half open. Many other species are found in seas worldwide.


A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Rega... More...



Shags are goose-sized dark long-necked birds similar to cormorants but smaller and generally slimmer with a characteristic steep forehead. In the breeding season adults develop a dark glossy green plu... More...